Nets Show Scorn for 'Two-Pronged Republican Attack on Obama'

The broadcast network evening news shows took their cues from the Obama campaign Thursday night as all framed their coverage -- of President Bush warning in Israel that “some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals” -- around angry reaction to Bush's perceived attack on Barack Obama with CBS and NBC trying to undermine Bush's argument by contending it contradicts policies of past Republican Presidents and/or Bush administration officials.

CBS anchor Katie Couric, referring to Bush and John McCain, cited “a two-pronged Republican attack today on Barack Obama on a key foreign policy matter.” Reporter Chip Reid saw a “Republican barrage” which “began in Jerusalem today where President Bush appeared to be taking aim at Barack Obama.” Reid soon passed along how “Obama, who has said he would meet with leaders of Iran, Syria, and Cuba, noted that Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, and even Reagan also negotiated directly with America's enemies.” But Mikhail Gorbachev hadn't promised to nuke Israel.

Over on NBC, Brian Williams teased his lead story: “President Bush on the world stage delivers what was widely seen as an attack on Barack Obama.” Williams described it as “today's political shot heard 'round the world. The concussion was instantaneous. Upon hearing the news, one Democratic Senator used a word we can't use on this broadcast.” Reporter John Yang called it “the first salvo of this fall's general election campaign” and, with “THIS IS B******T” on screen, relayed how “Senator Joseph Biden characterized the President's words with a word we can't use.” Yang contended Bush's admonition “would also apply to Mr. Bush's former Secretary of State” who urged engagement with Hamas. But not a personal sit-down with the President of the United States.

ABC's World News, which like CBS led with the same-sex marriage ruling in California, approached the Bush/Obama story in less hyperbolic terms as anchor Charles Gibson introduced a report from David Wright: “There was a debate today between Republicans and Democrats that spanned the Atlantic Ocean. President Bush, addressing Israel's parliament, made comments to which Barack Obama and other Democrats took offense -- and then John McCain got involved.”

FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume highlighted this pledge on the Obama campaign's Web site:
Obama is the only major candidate who supports tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions.
Transcripts of the stories on the Thursday, May 15 CBS and NBC evening newscasts:

CBS Evening News:
KATIE COURIC, IN OPENING TEASER: Also tonight, President Bush jumps into the campaign fray.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals.

COURIC: Barack Obama calls it a false political attack on him.

....

COURIC: And if the gay marriage debate is a preview of what may come in the fall election campaign, here is another -- a two-pronged Republican attack today on Barack Obama on a key foreign policy matter: Iran. Chip Reid has that story.

CHIP REID: The Republican barrage began in Jerusalem today where President Bush appeared to be taking aim at Barack Obama.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals.

REID: Negotiating with terrorists today, he said, would be like trying to appease Hitler before World War II.

BUSH: We've heard this foolish delusion before as Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939-

REID: A White House spokesman denied that Obama was the target. But when John McCain jumped into the fray, there was no doubt where he was aiming.

JOHN MCCAIN CLIP #1: Why does Barack Obama, Senator Obama, want to sit down with a state sponsor of terrorism?

MCCAIN CLIP #2: It is a serious error on the part of Senator Obama. It shows naivete and inexperience.

REID: In a written statement, Obama said it was "sad" that the President would use the celebration of Israel's 60th anniversary to "launch a false political attack." Obama, who has said he would meet with leaders of Iran, Syria, and Cuba, noted that Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, and even Reagan also negotiated directly with America's enemies. Even Hillary Clinton came to his defense.

HILLARY CLINTON: President Bush's comparison of any Democrat to Nazi appeasers is both offensive and outrageous.

REID: For McCain, the focus on Obama yet again overshadowed his own campaign, and an unusual speech today in which he imagined what the world will look like in 2013 at the end of his first term.

MCCAIN CLIP #1: America has welcomed home most of the service men and women who have sacrificed terribly.

MCCAIN CLIP #2: The Iraq war has been won.

REID: Democrats say McCain's crystal ball must be cloudy. Their crystal ball, they say, not surprisingly, shows a Democrat in the White House for the next four years, and the troops home from Iraq long before 2013.

NBC Nightly News:
BRIAN WILLIAMS, TEASE: On the broadcast tonight, war of words. President Bush on the world stage delivers what was widely seen as an attack on Barack Obama.

....

WILLIAMS: Good evening tonight from Atlanta. President George W. Bush today went before the Israeli legislature to deliver an important speech on Israel's 60th anniversary. In one particular paragraph, he invoked the fight against the horrors of Nazi Germany, and it was clear to those listening that it was, in part, to make a point about Barack Obama back home. It was today's political shot heard 'round the world. The concussion was instantaneous. Upon hearing the news, one Democratic Senator used a word we can't use on this broadcast. And so we begin here tonight with NBC's John Yang who's in Jerusalem traveling with the President. John, good evening.

JOHN YANG: Good evening, Brian. This just may have been the first salvo of this fall's general election campaign, and it was fired by someone who's not even running. Speaking to Israeli lawmakers, President Bush ridiculed calls for diplomatic engagement with Iran.

PRESIDENT BUSH, AT KNESSET: Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along.

YANG: He compared it to attempts to placate Adolf Hitler on the eve of World War II.

BUSH: We've heard this foolish delusion before. We have an obligation to call this what it is, the false comfort of appeasement.

YANG: Mr. Bush didn't name any names. Privately, White House officials said the shoe fits the Democratic front-runner. Obama reacted sharply, calling the President's speech a “false political attack” that “does nothing to secure the American people and our stalwart ally Israel.” The presumptive Republican nominee quickly echoed the President.

JOHN McCAIN, ON HIS BUS: It is a serious error on the part of Senator Obama that shows naivete and inexperience and lack of judgment.

YANG: Top Democrats leapt to Obama's defense.

HILLARY CLINTON: President Bush's comparison of any Democrat to Nazi appeasers is both offensive and outrageous.

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: What the President did in that regard is beneath the dignity of the office of President.

YANG: Senator Joseph Biden characterized the President's words with a word we can't use [on screen: “THIS IS B******T.”] White House officials said Mr. Bush's speech wasn't political, it was just stating longstanding policy. They said the criticism also applied to former President Jimmy Carter and foreign allies. But it would also apply to Mr. Bush's former Secretary of State.

AUDIO OF COLIN POWELL ON NPR ON JULY 18: Hamas has to be engaged. I don't think you can't just cast them in outer darkness and try to find a solution to the problems of the region without taking into account the standing that Hamas has in the Palestinian community.

YANG: And current Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this week unofficial contact with Iran would be a good thing, a position Pentagon officials said is in tune with the President. This may have been the first preview of the Republican line of attack against Obama if he wins the Democratic nomination and it was launched here in Israel at a time when a key U.S. voting block was paying very close attention. Brian?
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center